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Romine v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

April 16, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



Plaintiff, Brandy R. Romine, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. Procedural Background:

Plaintiff protectively filed her current applications for DIB and SSI on April 16, 2014, alleging an inability to work since January 1, 2004, due to her bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic disorder, migraines, and pain. (Tr. 101, 162, 171, 479). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through June 30, 2007. (Tr. 13, 112). An administrative hearing was held on May 8, 2006, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 41).

In a written decision dated August 31, 2006, [1] the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work with limitations. (Tr. 38-50). Plaintiff requested review of the unfavorable decision by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's August 31, 2006, decision, and remanded Plaintiff's case back to the ALJ on December 4, 2007. (Tr. 34-37, 86-89). A supplemental administrative hearing was held on December 9, 2008. (Tr. 498-527).

By written decision dated September 8, 2009, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled prior to April 18, 2006, but that Plaintiff became disabled on that date and remained disabled through the date of the decision. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found since the alleged onset date of disability, January 1, 2004, [2] Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 16). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: a mood disorder, a personality disorder, osteoarthritis, and scoliosis. (Tr. 16). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had an additional severe impairment, specifically fibromyalgia, as of December 2, 2008. (Tr. 16). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that since the alleged onset date, Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found that prior to April 18, 2006, the date Plaintiff became disabled, Plaintiff maintained the RFC to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant was limited to the following: occasional reaching overhead bilaterally; no sustained driving; no climbing of scaffolds, ladders, or ropes; only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; only occasional stooping, bending, crouching, crawling, kneeling, and balancing; and no work that involved unprotected heights or dangerous machines and/or equipment. Furthermore, claimant could only have performed work that included no more than the following: non-complex simple instructions, little judgment, and routine and/or repetitive work; work learned by rote with few variables; contact with others which was only superficial and incidental to work; and supervision which was concrete, direct, and specific.

(Tr. 17). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that prior to April 18, 2006, Plaintiff could perform work in production work/bench assembly, and as a chicken eviscerator. (Tr. 20-21). The ALJ found that as of April 18, 2006, Plaintiff became disabled, and continued to be disabled through the date of the decision. (Tr. 21).

Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on February 7, 2014. (Tr. 1-6). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Doc. 13; Doc. 14).

The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties’ briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

II. Applicable Law:

This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other words, if after reviewing the record it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir.2001); see also 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines “physical or mental impairment” as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

The Commissioner’s regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the ...

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